Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Worst Popes of All Time

I've run through this before when I recommended The Bad Popes by ER Chamberlin for the readers here. You should still be able to find it for purchase somewhere on this page. It looks like a blog called Odee has tried to compile its own list.

I call foul. Stephen VI as the worst? Really? I don't care what anybody says, that whole Cadaver Synod thing is one of my favorite stories from Church history. It's the perfect example of the Church's divine consitution. As Pius VII told Napoleon, if the popes over the years weren't bad enough to destroy the Church, then Bonaparte didn't stand a chance.

I'm going to plug Chamberlin's book again, if for no other reason than it corrects a lot of the exaggeration and polemic directed against guys like Alexander VI. My personal pick for the worst is Benedict IX. They called it The Pornocracy for good reasons, and this guy embodies most of them.

I'm willing to bet that the folks who compiled the list aren't Catholic. Innocent IV and John XV was real stretches here, especially when you've got guys who jeopardized doctrine with their weakness (yeah, I'm looking at you, Honorius). When you consider that the main job of the pope is to shepherd the Universal Church, these types should be much higher on the list. Even saints can make for bad popes, as St. Celestine V showed us. This is more a listing of bad guys who happened to be pope (except maybe Clement, who is down at #10), rather than bad popes.


Philip said...

Since you're wondering if you still have readers...

I must say that bad popes are one of the things that tries my faith. What kind of Church is it that would pick a bad pope? Why should we follow the pope's teaching so closely if we don't have confidence that the pope, while not perfectly good, is at least extremely good?

Karl said...

Christians follow Christ, not the pope. Or rather, the pope is the vicar of Christ, but isn't Christ. Does that make any sense?

Christians follow the Triune God, who is pleased to work through fallible human beings, and who also works through these human beings without making them perfect. After all, to make a human perfect, whether he wills or not to be perfect, is to make him not free and not human.

I think I'm being obscure. God works through sinful popes, just as he works through sinful me and sinful (I presume) you.

Throwback said...

A Church full of sinners is going to have some bad popes. Peter denied Christ 3 times. Even Christ Himself didn't pick an impeccable bunch in His selection of Apostles. The good ones ran away. The bad one betrayed Him.

The bad popes are actually one of the things that convinces me most about the Truth of the Church. Sort of like what Pius VII said. How can all these guys have been in charge and not only fail to destroy the Church but also fail to corrupt Her teachings? Even Cardinal Newman was amazed by this.

Philip said...

I don't know how much God works through me. Probably not enough, and that's probably my fault.

But unlike the pope, I have no power to change the overall direction of the Church. I can't write an encyclical or declare an infallible truth.

How do we know the our popes are having "good" moments when they do these things that are within their power.

And yes Karl, I'm sinful. Very.

vita dulcedo spes

Throwback said...

The teaching authority is protected by the Holy Spirit. Gates of hell not prevailing and all that. Plus, the curious historical fact that the great heresies infected every see of the world at some point in time, except for the See of Rome.

Everything else as far as personal papal character goes is subject to the same sinful what-not that the rest of us have to deal with. There is no guarantee that a pope won't do something evil, ill-advised, or outright stupid. Peter not eating with the Gentiles and being rebuked by Paul for doing so is an excellent example.